Linda Mottram: Andrew Robb good morning to you.

Andrew Robb: Good morning Linda.

Linda Mottram: Penny Wong says it’s not about sending the China Free Trade Agreement back to Beijing, or jeopardising it, but it’s about putting some protections in on Australian jobs and conditions. Is there not scope for negotiations here?

Andrew Robb: Well firstly we’ve got to establish why that needs to be done. I just heard Penny and she made the claim that all of these things have changed. Well, the fact of the matter is there is not a cigarette paper between the labour market testing conditions – and all of the other elements within this agreement – compared with the conditions that applied when Labor was in office. If there was a problem, why didn’t they fix it then? We’ve got Simon Crean yesterday, coming out and saying of the labour market testing conditions that there is no change; saying that the employment standards are the same. Saying that there’s nothing of substance that would warrant opening up this deal.

Now Penny says we can do it around the edges. Now I don’t understand what this is. If we’re going to put in conditions which are different for our biggest trading partner, compared with every other country in the world, all we’ll be doing is reinforcing what has been a very xenophobic campaign initiated by the CFMEU, and with Labor now tugging the forelock because they’re controlled by the CFMEU; their pre-selections and their finance. And if they’re going to keep looking to do something which is specific to China and nowhere else in the world – I’m telling you now – China will walk away from this deal.

Linda Mottram: But can you explain – if you say there is not a cigarette papers difference between what Labor has presided over, and what you’ve agreed to with the Chinese, why then in your letter – which has been well publicised – on 17 June this year to your ministerial counterpart in China in these negotiations, is there specifically for example, the pledge Australia will remove the requirement for mandatory skills requirements for the following ten occupations on the date of entry into force of the agreement, then the occupations are listed. Isn’t that a change in conditions that most Australians would baulk at?

Andrew Robb: Well that provision applies to 160 other countries and was a part of the deal with Chile, which the Labor Party concluded seven years ago; it’s part of the Japan agreement; part of the Korean agreement; and what’s different about China? Why did we not have all this chorus of complaints that the CFMEU and Bill Shorten have raised? Why didn’t we have that then? Why is it only one country? What’s wrong with China?

You know, this is the problem; they want to confirm the scare campaign that they’re running – that we’ll be run over by Chinese. I mean, it’s just the most irresponsible act.  The conditions that apply – the 457 conditions – will apply as strictly to the Chinese as they do to any other country. Those ten exceptions – they applied under Labor. They apply to 160 countries today. African countries can come in today and have those ten exemptions. So this is the sort of disingenuous playing with words and phrases, selecting things in a very calculated way and not showing the full context of the words in some of these areas.

They’re scaring people; they’ve run robocalls in my electorate telling them that electricians won’t have qualifications. They’ve scared already a whole lot of seniors who were ringing me the next day saying they’ve had some electrical work done recently and can they turn the lights on, for safety. This is the sort of effect that they’re having. They are scaring people.

They’re pursuing the latent fear about the masses in the north and they’re playing that card for all it’s worth and then pretending that they’re looking after the workers. They’re looking after their jobs; not the workers’ jobs. There’s tens of thousands of jobs that will come immediately from this agreement for Australian workers. There’ll be a lot of jobs lost if this deal goes south.

Linda Mottram: Now the problem is, Andrew Robb, that you’ve got to get this through the Parliament and at present, it looks, well it’s a line ball call. What are you going to do to try and massage that because you’re going to have to give something, surely?

Andrew Robb: Why? If the Labor Party can establish, rather than just the sort of vague you know, ‘there’s a problem with labour market testing’ that Penny just said or ‘there’s a problem with this’ or ‘there’s a problem with that,’ let them establish it. We’ve got Simon Crean – who was an ACTU president and employment minister, former leader of the Labor Party – he knows a little bit about industrial law I can tell you. He came out yesterday and said this: there is no change; there is no problem.

Linda Mottram: Yeah

Andrew Robb: Bob Hawke has said the same and Daniel Andrews has said the same. So why are all these Labor luminaries – who are qualified – saying that it’s okay?  And we’ve got Bill Shorten and the CFMEU isolated out there. Now they’ve got a responsibility. We don’t have to confirm their racist preference. They want to discriminate against China whether it’s in the agreement or outside of it – they want to confirm that we’re going to treat China differently to the rest of the world. If we do that, China will walk away.

Linda Mottram: You are still going to have to get it through the Parliament though.

Andrew Robb: We need to keep making the case.  It doesn’t mean that we bend and confirm the campaign of the CFMEU; which is one of the must scurrilous campaigns, and it is racist because they are trying to treat China differently to all the other countries we’ve got agreements with, with the same conditions.

Linda Mottram: Minister while I’ve got you, you’re one of the most senior ministers in this Government. You’ve been around a long time. Looking at the economy at the moment, those figures yesterday on growth, which was really only propped up in the June quarter by Government spending the experts say – I’m not an expert. What is going on with the Australian economy? Are we at a moment in time where we have to say to ourselves, the good days are gone? The years of strong growth in Australia have gone. We have to resign ourselves to lower living standards?

Andrew Robb: No. I don’t believe that. We’ve still got one of the highest growth rates in the developed world, if not the highest growth rate in the developed world. What I’m saying is there is a deep level of uncertainty across not just the developed world, but certainly the developing world. 

Secondly, we are uniquely placed in Australia because the growth that is occurring around us in the region is unparalleled in world history, frankly. There’s opportunities for us as a small nation, especially with our services. What we’re doing at the moment is transitioning from a reliance in the last ten or twelve years – which was very good for us; the average wealth of people doubled in the last fifteen years – but the point is that we are transitioning from a collapse in resource prices, and they’ve gone a lot lower. Who would have thought that they would come from 160 down to 40? Everyone predicted – including the previous Government – that the boom would end and that it would have a material impact on the economy.

But it is seriously impacting the economy. But we are transitioning to a service-based economy very quickly. 75 per cent of our GDP is services. And the point is that the deal that I did with China, has an overwhelming emphasis on services, so that we can exploit our great strength and transition effectively. Tourism for example; tourism is up eight per cent. It’s growing at eight per cent – one of our great services. Education services are growing at about six per cent – one of our great services.

These are the things that will replace mining and we’ve got these things in place. The Free Trade Agreements – all three of them – were very much a key plank of our strategy to help this transition. You can see consumer spending – it’s still at significantly high levels. Confidence is still up. And I do feel that we will work our way out of this, and that we’re not headed for a recession or anything of that order.

Linda Mottram: Okay Andrew Robb good to talk to you; thank you.

Andrew Robb: Thanks Linda.

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